The Last Survivor: Denial
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian speaking at the “Honor the Past, Act Now for Darfur” commemoration event in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, April 19th. Despite, the world’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Armenian community acts as some of the strongest advocates for the Darfuri people.
In the 1980s, with her children grown, Hédi Fried, decided to dedicate her life to Stockholm’s community of Holocaust Survivors of which she is a part. Now, at 84 years old, she has dedicated her remaining years to ensuring that the stories of horror that she was made to witness and experience are passed on to future generations – allowing a new generation to take on the important responsibility of keeping and sharing such memories. In Hédi’s view, the degree to which we allow our memory to fade is tied to directly to the persistence with which the past will repeat itself. Voices such as Hédi’s are imperative at a time in which it has become all too common to deny that the Holocaust ever occurred.
“The first time I heard it, I laughed,” Hédi told us, speaking of her first encounter with such denial. “The second time I heard it, I realized that this was nothing to laugh at; and the third time, I realized I had to do something.”
Unfortunately, the trend of denial is not relegated to the Holocaust alone. While deniers in Iran hold conferences that seek to dispute the facts of the Holocaust, Hutus in Rwanda have insisted that tales of one million Tutsis slaughtered in 1994 are mere myths. In addition to the extreme pain such claims undoubtedly bring to Survivors like Jacqueline, who is reminded daily of the genocide’s reality by the extreme absence that remains in her life, denial has turned to acts of violence. In April, the day after a commemoration event in Kigali that honored the victims of the 1994 genocide, a grenade was thrown at the city’s genocide memorial – the same horrific incident occurred last year. And, even as genocide continues in Darfur, governments across Africa have already launched a widespread campaign of denial – insisting that claims of genocide are the stuff of Western propaganda.
Indeed, it is more important than ever that champions of truth speak up to ensure that our collective memory does not fade at the hands of those who seek to repeat the horrors of the past. However, in denouncing those who spread variations on history, deviations from the truth, and all out lies, we must remind ourselves that as a nation, we too are engaged in this evil movement of denial.
Tomorrow, Armenians around the world will commemorate the horrific genocide that was carried out against their people. On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman authorities arrested 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul. The execution and deportation of these Armenians launched a genocide that would claim nearly two million lives. 94 years later, the Armenian community still waits for the world to acknowledge this crime.
Nations around the world, including our own, continue to refuse this simple request.
In Darfur, four million refugees wait for the world to respond to their continued cries for help. In response, we tell them that there is little we can do – that it is far too complicated of a situation for us to get involved. Despite the indifference to evil that saturates such refusals of intervention, implicit within them is at least an acknowledgment of the suffering of the Darfuri people – an assertion that the horror they are experiencing is real and not a delusional figment of their nightmarish imaginations. While it is rightfully outweighed by the frustrations of our unwillingness to act, we must not forget that acknowledgement is indeed a powerful thing. For one will never seek to stop, what he does not believe to exist.
In Germany, the government is unable to take back their trespasses of the past. Such impossibilities are a fact of our limitations as mortals – the movement of history insists that we look forward. Understanding these restrictions all too well, the German people have done what they can to ensure that the horror that began in Germany in the 1930s, does not repeat itself there. They have adopted a firm policy of Holocaust education in their schools and a newly erected Holocaust Memorial in downtown Berlin serves as a daily reminder to the German people of both the atrocious actions undertaken by their nation and the inhumane silence with which they responded to such actions as citizens.
In comparison to the 11 million lives taken during the Holocaust, this may seem like a rather small step. Small as it may be, it is unlikely that the next genocide we witness as a people will be carried out in Germany.
In Turkey, these small, pertinent steps of acknowledgement are constantly refused. Such denial is not only a slap in the face of the Armenian community, it is an affront to all us – an attempt to rob us of the facts of our collective story of life; an insistent error in the history of our species; an attempt at tipping the balance of memory, compelling us to repeat the horrors of the past. As a nation that values freedom, peace, and truth, it is our responsibility to speak up to such atrocious lies.
Today, President Obama will speak at our National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Undoubtedly, just days following the annual commemoration of the Holocaust – Yom Hashoa – the President will honor the memory of those who perished during the Holocaust. What remains to be seen is whether, on the day preceding the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, he will honor the two millions lives taken in 1915 with the simple action of acknowledgement.
In the aftermath of genocide those who survive are often left with very little. An indiscriminate killer, genocide claims mothers, fathers, children, siblings, teachers and friends as its victims. As it continues it kills a people’s history and traditions. What it cannot take is the memory of those who come out alive. It is us only us, the people of posterity, who can commit such an atrocious crime against those who have already lost so much.
Watch a 20-minute sneak preview our film now and commemorate the Armenian Genocide along with the five other genocides commemorated in April by participating in Genocide Prevention Month.